Beginningless and Endless

Chinese culture is unusual for us in that it doesn’t have a creation myth of the sort that almost all western cultures have, e.g. there is no divinity or god that brings the world into existance.
This has significant consequences for how we think about the world and structure it. If we think of the world as having been brought about by something else, the world is always secondary. If we think of it as having a creation point, an arrow of time is implied; the precarious present is allways barely clinging on, like a person running across a collapsing bridge into deep fog.
If we don’t have a creation myth in the normal form then all the things that we think of as acting upon the world are qualities of the world.

Adapted from Kusen. 297 give on 14th july 2020


Meditatively stitching the clothing of freedom

Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it for just a ksana or a muhurta, that experience will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.

Dogen Zenji, Kesa Kudoku chapter of Shobogenzo (Nishijima/Cross translation)

Some of us recently began meeting monthly on Zoom to practice our zen sewing. Our small friendly group started on Sunday afternoon, with two sewing periods. These were interspersed with time in the middle for the Takkesage chant, a brief chat about Master Dogen’s Kesa Kudoku (Merit of the Kasaya/ Okesa) and a break for a cuppa.

The sewing periods are peaceful times of practice where we can carefully attend to whatever task we are working on, and still ask for help when we need it. Michael and Margaret were on hand to give detailed advice, with Margaret expertly guiding us in the warp and weft of the fabric 🙂

Most of us are just beginning our sewing projects, either a rakusu (5 row robe worn over the neck), or seven row okesa (worn over the shoulder) and also zagu sitting mat which is often used for prostrations. Some of us have sewn okesa before whilst others including myself have sewn a rakusu or two but are now preparing for the okesa. And some of us are at the exciting stage of getting ready to sew their first rakusu, with the plan to receive Jukaie precepts after completing their sewing.

Each stitch, each moment of sincere, committed action, one cause in many from which the completed okesa emerges. It can be said that the work of sewing the okesa is never finished. The stitches of the okesa are the actions of our Buddhist life, dedicated to all beings. At the end of that life, the okesa of a lifetime of actions are unfolded and spread out.

Michael Kendo Tait

We have been enjoying chatting online (using Slack) about fabrics and stitching and what equipment is best to use, but it was really nice to have some time together to help each other and discuss in more details about the practice. It is a friendly and easygoing group with practitioners from Glasgow and other places further afield – wherever you are you are welcome to join us 🙂

Please read more on the Okesa Sewing Group page.


Everyday Life

At the end of chapter 16 of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, where Nagarjuna is talking about Nirvana, he writes the following:
“People who say that they want to stop grasping and get the state of Nirvana are really grasping for something. In the state where Nirvana is not something to be attained and everyday life is not something to be abandoned, what is everyday life, how shall we conceive of Nirvana?”

In this Video John examines this question, and how we can understand “everyday life”

Video adapted from kusen given on 11th July 2020


In this video, John explores the concept of Nirvana. It is often easy to misunderstand Nirvana as a goal or a state that we must attain. Even when we imagine we have a more sophisticated understanding, it is still often easy to catch ourselves ‘polishing a tile’ during practice, and this seems to be hard to resist, particularly as we are profoundly influenced by a culture that is particularly individualistic and acquisitive, even whilst pretending otherwise .
Here John tries to clarify what is meant by Nirvana and how this relates to the practice of Zazen.

Adapted from Kusen No. 295 given on 19th July 2020



Before you sit Zazen your life exists in time, you pick it up, you put yourself in order, you come to sit, and you understand that your sitting will be of a particular duration and when that sitting finishes then you can resume the form of you life.
So when your like that, the ‘I’ that is you is folded up, sufficiently small to fit within the space of the self. However when you practice Zazen that ‘I’ unfolds and it unfolds to include the whole world

Adapted from Kusen No. 294 given on 4rth July 2020


In this video John continues his exploration of the concept of ‘expression’ in Buddhist practice.
“From the perspective of duality there is self and world, there are objects, there are forces which act on those objects there is interaction between object and so on. So from the perspective of duality expression is either not seen at all or is thought of as something peripheral.
However from the perspective of non-duality, expression is all there is, there is not a pre-existing world comprised of ‘things’ which interact and of which expression is a minor part, there is simply this dynamic expressive whole, constantly creative and constantly vivid”


This Buddha Field

In the Vimilakirti Sutra, the Buddha announces that this world is a Buddha field. Sariputra takes issue with this and notes that when he sees the world, he sees a world full of suffering. The Budha then touches the Earth with his big toe and the Earth is magically transformed into glittering diamonds and precious stones.
In this video John discusses this passage, and shows how the story is a poetic description of Zazen.

Adapted from Kusen given on 27th June 2020

The Catarrh of the Self

Master Joshu said to his monks: If you remain in this monastery, practice Zazen assidiously for five years, ten years, even if you say nothing, nobody can say you are without expression.

In this video John examines what is meant by ‘expression’.

Kusen given on 23rd June 2020


Kanzeon is the Japanese name for the Bohdhisattva of compassion, known more commonly as Avalokiteshvara or Kwan Yin. She is usually depicted as having many hands and eyes: the eyes see the suffering of living beings, while the hands work to relieve that suffering. In this video, John examines the imagery used to depict Kanzeon, and the deeper and more subtle meaning that is being conveyed.

Adapted from a kusen given on


One of the core ideas of chinese buddhism is that all living beings have buddha nature. This derives from a number of sutras, the pre-eminent one being the Tathagatagarbha sutra. In this video, John examines the concept of buddha nature using the evocative imagery of the word ‘tathagatargarbha’ [buddha womb/embryo] itself, to help clarify the concept .

Adated from Kusen 289 given on 16th June 2020